Friday, December 20, 2013

Channel Zilch by Dough Sharp

Channel Zilch (The Geek Rapture Project, #1)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, a small disclaimer: I sort of know the author. *

I REALLY enjoyed this book! It's a true roller-coaster ride! Heloise Chin (AKA Hel) is an uber-geek girl computer whiz. Her father is a billionaire. She wants to create a reality "TV" show set in orbit. Her dad is willing to fund it, so they reach out to Mick Oolfson, ex-NASA shuttle pilot, and he agrees to be a part of it, as he REALLY wants to get back to space. (He was kicked out of NASA for hot-dogging in a shuttle. ;-) There is only one small glitch: they need to steal a shuttle! And, fortunately for them, the famed shuttle USS Enterprise is getting prepped for exhibit. So their plan is to steal the Enterprise, take it to Europe and use the Russian space port for launch. Easy-peasy! ;-)

Like a true roller coaster, we start off on the uphill climb, where we become familiar with most of the main characters (including Mick's nemesis, the current head of NASA security: you know this won't end well) - and then we reach the top of the climb and away we go! There are theft attempts, run-ins with NASA security, fighter jets, a trip across the Atlantic on a rather smelly boat, a Turkish Star Trek fan with 'connections', and hilarious interactions among the main characters. And like a good roller coaster, when you reach the end, you think "That was over too fast! Let's go again!!" - and fortunately, the Sequel (Hel's Bet) will be published in 2014.

What did I love about the book? Mostly, the characters. Hel is even more of a geek girl than I am, and I just loved her tech-speak. (Doug got all the computer stuff right!) Mick could have been kind of unlikable, as a hot-shot jet pilot, but he has a very self-deprecating sense of humor that really made me like him. The other characters are very interesting (and often quite funny), and serve the story well. I also liked the pacing - extremely well done! This was a page-turner, with laugh-out-loud moments!

In short, this is a book that geeks will love, and anyone who enjoys a good techno-thriller will also enjoy it, especially if they don't mind a little humor mixed in. I can't WAIT for the sequel! (And not just because I'm "in" it*)

* I donated some some money to the ClarionWest writer's workshop several years ago, and the 'reward' was to have my name used in an author's book. Doug was selected as the author, and we've since emailed back and forth, and are now friends on Facebook. Though we've never met in person, I do think of him as a friend. (The book my name will be used in is the sequel to this one: Hel's Bet, which is due out in 2014).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

Blood of Tyrants (Temeraire, #8)Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best of the series so far!

The Temeraire series, for those not familiar with it, is set during the time of the Napoleonic wars, and is quite historically accurate - with the addition of dragons as weapons of war. :-)

As the series has progressed, we have visited just about every continent, and we see how dragons are treated differently, and how the cultures of those countries differ, due to how they view their dragons. And dragons are not just dumb beasts. They are intelligent, and can speak (many are multi-lingual), read and write.

In 'Blood of Tyrants', Temeraire's captain (and best friend) is shipwrecked and lost in Japan (which was violently xenophobic at the time), and has lost his memory. Temeraire is desperate to find him, but there are political issues blocking him. Meanwhile, Napoleon is massing his army (and his dragons) to attack Russia.

This book moves along better than any of the others (and I've loved them all), with wonderful scenes between Temeraire and Laurence, especially when Laurence recovers (most of) his memory. The story is fun, exciting, touching, and sometimes quite sweet. This whole series simply delights me!

I understand there is one last book coming in the series, and I can't wait for it!!

I would recommend this whole series to anyone who likes dragons or alternate histories. It's so well written, and such a complete alternate world that it's quite believable. (And, apologies to my husband, but I think I might be slightly in love with Temeraire! ;)

Redshirts by John Scalzi

RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was going to give this 3 stars, but the codas at the end really made it for me, and pushed it up to 3.5, which, of course, we don't have that option!

This is a pretty well done book, considering it's based on a single geek joke - the fact that on the original Star Trek series, away team members wearing red shirts were very often killed off, to provide immediate drama. So the author takes this joke and runs with it.

He bases his characters in a our future, with space exploration just like that of Star Trek. Our main characters get transferred to the flagship of the fleet, where they find everyone avoids away missions at all costs. They work together to figure out why this is happening. No spoiler here on what they find out!

I found the book wryly amusing, and laughed out loud in a couple of places, but didn't find it rip-roaring hilarious. The characters were unique and interesting, with some good sharp dialog. And the ending was satisfying. But, as I said, the codas made me like the book a lot more. Can't say more without spoilers.

If you're a Star Trek fan, this is a fun, light read. If you're not, I don't think you'll really appreciate it.

The Romance of a Spahi by Pierre Loti

The Romance of a SpahiThe Romance of a Spahi by Pierre Loti
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A spahi was a horse-soldier in the French army. This book is a tale of a young, naive Frenchman who becomes a spahi and is stationed in Senegal. I bought this book, because this edition is a lovey leatherbound, gilt-edged edition. I had no idea what a spahi was or what the story was about, I just thought the book itself was beautiful.

Well, you know what they say about judging a book by its cover? The content of the book is as far away from the beauty of the cover as is possible. I read older books a lot, as I collect them, and am used to the casual racism and/or sexism that is innate in these older books. But this one was just HORRIBLE. Female black Africans are referred to as Negresses, and they are either lazy and stupid, or sexy and trying to trap the white solders. The blacks beat drums at night, "stirring up the black blood" which makes the soldiers go wild with lust and drink. Oh, and let's not forget the constant reference to the "smell of the Negro".

Our young hero 'falls under the spell' of a lovely black woman (oh, excuse me - Negress), who uses spells and totems to bind her to him. He loves her but also hates her because she's black and he loves her. So he beats her, of course. Which she endures, of course. She follows him even when he has to go on a mission to the interior.

I suppose this is a good example of the "romance" novels of that era (romance in the classic sense, not necessarily 'romantic'), but it was SO difficult to get past the racism and imperialism. The one good thing was that the author was able to really give a sense of the places - the dry white city, the desert, the jungle. The descriptions were very vivid, and made me FEEL what it was like to be there. That's the ONLY positive about this book (other than this edition is pretty! ;) But I really cannot recommend this book to the casual reader - but only to those who may be studying literature of that time and type.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Sea Wolf

The Sea WolfThe Sea Wolf by Jack London
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

How many ways did I loathe this book? Well, first there was the constant theme that in order to be a "real man" (I'll save discussion of women for later) that one has to work with his hands, and has to brave the elements, and laugh in the face of danger, and be cruel, sadistic and amoral, and that these are all things to be admired! Oh, and don't forget that you have to have the body of a Greek god and a a self-taught intellect that is only used to back up one's own views, not to explore other views. This, basically, is the description of Wolf Larsen, captain of the Ghost, a seal-hunting ship in the early 1900's. Our protagonist, Humphrey van Weydon is an intellectual and a scholar, who never "worked a day in his life", according to the illustrious captain. (Hump was 'rescued' from a shipwreck and immediately, and illegally, pressed into service aboard the Ghost - where the first thing he sees is the captain killing the first mate.) Hump is shown to be in every way inferior to the brutish captain.

Needless to say, the captain and 'Hump' disagree on morality, duty, bravery, and just about anything else. So the first part of the book is full of long discussions between the two of them, where the captain always seems to get the better of Hump. This was point two of what I loathed. The arguments were facile; Hump was never very convincing of the 'Christian' or even moral point of view. In all ways, Wolf Larsen is portrayed as superior (despite, or even because of, his cruelty to his crew).

Next we have an amazing coincidence of a rescue at sea of a damsel in distress, Maud, with whom Hump immediately falls in love. This really lacked in believability. At least Maud does not fall for the epitome of all that is male (Wolf) and sees him for what he is - a sadistic monster, who uses his intellect to justify his cruelty.

The next bit of the book was at least interesting, when Hump and Maud escape and are marooned on an island and have to fend for themselves to survive. Their struggles to make shelter and find food seemed quite realistic, and at least at this point their blooming love for one another seemed more realistic. But, even here, the descriptions of Maud as the weaker sex and Hump's feelings toward her were simply laughable: [Hump thinks to himself] "I shall never forget in that moment how instantly conscious I became of my manhood. The primitive deeps of my nature stirred. I felt myself masculine, the protector of the weak, the fighting male. And best of all, I felt myself the protector of my loved one. She leaned against me, so light and lily-frail, and as her trembling eased away it seemed as though I became aware of prodigious strength. I felt myself a match for the most ferocious bull [seal] in the herd, and I know, had such a bull charged upon me, that I should have met it unflinchingly and quite coolly, and I know that I should have killed it." All I can say is, ugh.

Then, a still more amazing coincidence occurs - the Ghost crashes on the island, bereft of all crew except for Wolf Larsen. He, however, is suffering from some sort of brain ailment (possibly a tumor of some kind) and is blind, and then slowly becomes paralyzed. Hump and Maud both bemoan the tragedy of such an "alive" person becoming weak and helpless. When he finally dies, Maud even feels sorry for him!

Look, I realize this was written over 100 years ago, when the ideals of masculinity and femininity were different, but this was just WAY over the top. There was nothing, NOTHING admirable about Wolf Larsen, except maybe his hot body. He was a bully, a sadist, and a criminal.

Oh, and one more thing I loathed - the edition I read had an afterward written by some English professor who seemed to practically glow with admiration for Wolf Larsen and what and example of the Heroic Man he is in literature.

So, why did I even finish it - well, Jack London is a decent story teller and I wanted to see how it was going to end. But I found the first half of the book difficult to read, between the endless (and pointless) arguments about morality and manhood, and the horrible cruelties inflicted on the crew. This was NOT a rousing sea adventure, a la Horatio Hornblower or Master and Commander. If that's the kind of sea-faring tale you like, do NOT bother with this book.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Islands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke

Islands in the SkyIslands in the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is an early work by the legendary Arthur C. Clark, written in 1952, and targeted to what we call today the YA audience. It follows the adventures of a 16-year-old boy, who wins a trip to a space station. Unlike many other early "space operas", this book is blessedly free of space battles, unbelievable aliens on every planet in the solar system and damsels in distress. What it DOES have is lots and lots of descriptions of how satellites work, orbital science, and what it's like to live and work in zero gravity. The author is quite good at describing what a 'sunrise' looks like from orbit, and other space-related phenomena. Quite prescient, given that this was written before the first satellite was launched!

However, I do have some nits to pick. First, and most surprising, is that Clark has the space station commander using "an old-fashioned fountain pen" - in ZERO GRAVITY! Fountain pens require gravity to work! I found this mistake shocking, given all his other (mostly accurate) description of zero gravity effects. The other thing that really bothered me was the complete lack of women (other than a movie star). All the 'apprentices' were boys. All the space station crew were men. There weren't even any female nurses in the space hospital! However, given the time the book was written, this is understandable. Regrettable, but understandable. At least he didn't have everyone smoking, as in so many other science fiction works of the same era. (Asimov's Foundation, I'm looking at you!!)

If you are a fan of early Sci-Fi (as I am) this is worth reading. It's not the typical "space opera" of the time, but has lots of good science-based fact and conjecture. But modern young people would probably not be too enthralled by the story.